Solutions for the circular plastics industry take center stage at the Machine Square of Kunststoffenbeurs.

At the Machine Square of Kunststoffenbeurs 2023, both international and national exhibitors are showcasing state-of-the-art technology for the plastics and rubber industry. This year, one theme takes center stage: sustainability, translated concretely into lower CO2 emissions and energy consumption.

The demand for sustainable materials and products is on the rise. The plastics and rubber industry plays a part in addressing the transitions that will unfold in the coming years. "Plastics are unfairly stigmatized. They are a material that ingeniously allows us to create a lot from very few resources," says Bob Pieterse, Marketing Manager at Plastima. 

CO2 Emission Data

However, this doesn't mean that there's no pressure on the industry to become more sustainable. The effects of regulations associated with the EU's Green Deal are gradually becoming apparent, such as manufacturing companies having to provide CO2 emission data for the products they produce. "It starts with the multinational corporations, and from there, it slowly trickles down to injection molders," says Robbert Weijers, Sales Manager at Arburg Benelux. Arburg is celebrating its centennial year and is bringing a special anniversary machine to Den Bosch. This Allrounder 470 H combines energy efficiency with higher productivity. The interest of customers in the CO2 footprint is also growing at Austrian injection molding machine manufacturer ENGEL. The shift is happening rapidly, notes Ruud Heerkens, Application & Digitalization Engineer. Customers are seeking solutions to enable circular business practices.

Plastics are unfairly stigmatized. They are a material that ingeniously allows us to create a lot from very few resources. - Bob Pieterse, Plastima

Deserved Attention to Circularity

Deservedly so, according to Franz Hinterreiter, Managing Director of ENGEL Benelux. "Plastics are too valuable to be incinerated. With clever solutions, we can make the quality of recyclates as good as that of virgin material." He is referring not only to the reuse of industrial waste streams from the plastics processing industry itself but also to post-consumer waste streams. While the use of recyclates for certain applications in the medical or automotive industry might still be wishful thinking, ENGEL is convinced that recycling can be employed much more extensively than it currently is, even for high-performance technical plastics.

The lag in adoption and even the shortage of recycled plastics is related to a lack of regulations. "It's up to governments and politics to push for reuse," says Franz Hinterreiter. ENGEL has solutions ready to enable working with more recyclates. These range from control software to keep injection molding machines on par with overall equipment efficiency (OEE) when working with recyclates to solutions like skin-melt (co-injection of recyclates and virgin material).

Full-Electric Injection Molding Machines

However, sustainability is not just about recycling plastics. Reducing energy consumption is also a solution. Some manufacturers are focusing on electric injection molding machines for this purpose. Kunststoffenbeurs 2023 features a premiere this year: for the first time in 15 years, a working Ferromatik full-electric injection molding machine will be on display. Plastima will demonstrate it at the Machine Square. The German brand, a part of the American Milacron group, has been absent from Kunststoffenbeurs for a while. "This year, we're reintroducing it. With a robot and a hydraulic arm that ejects the products," outlines Bob Pieterse of Plastima, describing the part of the stand the Breda-based machine supplier has this year.

He notes that full-electric injection molding machines are in demand, partially due to higher energy prices. Alongside this Ferromatik injection molding machine, with clamping forces up to 8000 tons, stands a micro-injection molding machine from Dr. Boy, featuring the Procan Alpha 4 control system. Dr. Boy has entirely developed this control software to precisely manage the process. Plastima is also showcasing other technologies, such as LKPF's laser welding and the latest HIQ Dialoque #2 from Herrmann Ultraschall. With this, the machine supplier is welding Playmobil dolphins. The new generation of this ultrasonic welding equipment enables even more precise welding.

Hybrid Technology and Industry 4.0

For the anniversary machine, Arburg has opted for a hybrid concept: electric drives to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, along with a robust hydraulic injection unit that reduces investment costs. According to the manufacturer, this intelligent hybrid solution will remain effective for many years and perform equally in terms of energy consumption as a full-electric machine. Compared to purely hydraulic injection molding machines, the Allrounder H470 has 50% better energy efficiency, emits 12,000 kg less CO2 per year, consumes 35% less oil, and requires 50 to 70% less cooling water capacity. However, the solution for becoming more sustainable won't solely come from transitioning from purely hydraulic to hybrid and full-electric machines. Digitalization is another theme that plays a prominent role. "The digitalization of the injection molding factory is becoming increasingly important," says Robbert Weijers from Arburg. "By connecting all machines via a network to a central computer and controlling them from there, we can achieve efficiency gains."

The German injection molding machine manufacturer will demonstrate this connected concept, part of ArburgXworld, at the Machine Square. Even older injection molding machines can be connected with the right interface. The operator can then monitor the machines graphically via the dashboard and analyze production data in the AnalyticsCenter to detect process deviations. "In the traditional approach, you only intervene when you're no longer producing good products; when there's rejection. By then, it's too late," says Robbert Weijers. "With the digital environment, you can intervene before that time."

Plastics Valuable Building Blocks

This monitoring software naturally leads to better returns from the machinery fleet and more consistent quality. The latter aligns seamlessly with the trend towards sustainability: less waste means less material wastage and fewer CO2 emissions. Circular plastic processing demands a holistic approach, says Ruud Heerkens from ENGEL; an interplay between application, material, and control of the injection molding machines. The Austrian company will demonstrate this at Kunststoffenbeurs through concrete applications.

People associate plastics with cheap products; they need to learn that plastics are the same building blocks as other materials. Ruud Heerkens, ENGEL

ENGEL has developed Inject 4.0 for the control of the injection molding process, which digitally compensates for the variations brought by recyclates. This enables the use of recyclates for more applications. The true breakthrough in circular business, Heerkens and Hinterreiter say, is mostly a matter of having the right mindset now that the technical solutions are available. Often, the word "plastic" evokes a negative reaction. "People associate plastics with cheap products; they need to learn that plastics are the same building blocks as other materials," says the director of ENGEL Benelux. Plastics are enablers for initiatives like energy transition and reducing energy consumption. CO2 taxes and measures like deposit systems can help with this, he believes. "Keep the material in the cycle."

In addition to the Machine Square with 28 participants, Kunststoffenbeurs 2023 showcases around 250 exhibitors on the exhibition floor, an extensive lecture program with over 50 speakers, the Rethink Plastic Expo, a Live Stage where industry leaders present their views on current topics, and various areas including a 3D Printing Area. The fair will take place on September 20 and 21 in 's-Hertogenbosch. You can find more information here. You can register for free directly through this registration page.